Oscar Movie Month: "Titanic" Review

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An epic romance and disaster film directed, written, co-produced, and co-edited by James Cameron, this memorable movie gives viewers a fictionalized account of the sinking of the RMS Titanic in 1912 through the eyes of two ill-fated lovers from different social classes. Leonardo DiCaprio acts as Jack Dawson while Kate Winslet is a married first class passenger named Rose DeWitt Bukater. Billy Zane plays Rose's controlling fiancé Cal Hockley.
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Oscar Movie Month: "Titanic" Review

-- Rating: PG-13 (nudity, disaster-related peril and violence, sensuality, brief language)
Length: 194 minutes
Release Date: December 19, 1997
Directed by: James Cameron
Genre: Drama/Romance

When "Titanic" was first released in 1997, many people told jokes about spoiling the ending. The fact that the ship sinks is hardly a spoiler, since it's common knowledge that the actual ship went down in April 1912. However, the point of the film is not the ending, but the journey the characters take leading up to the ending. Writer/director James Cameron has created a cast of characters so richly drawn that the inevitable demise of the ship is almost beside the point.

The film tells the story of socialite Rose (Kate Winslet), who is being forced into a marriage with the wealthy Cal (Billy Zane), whom she doesn't love. A mountain of debt left by her late father threatens her family's survival, so she swallows her sadness and agrees to the arranged marriage. She, her busybody mother Ruth (Frances Fisher), and Cal all board the ill-fated ship to return to the United States. While on board, she meets free-spirited artist Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio), who won his ticket on the ship from a hand of poker minutes before it departed. Jack saves her from certain death when she attempts suicide, forging a bond that soon grows much deeper than mere friendship.

Rose and Jack spend more time together and begin to fall in love, much to the chagrin of Ruth, who sees a threat to her daughter's impending marriage. Cal also feels threatened and sends his henchman Lovejoy (David Warner) to put a stop to the burgeoning relationship between the star-crossed lovers. Lovejoy's meddling only serves to make the couple more desperate, which brings them even closer together. Just as Rose summons the courage to defy her mother and break things off with Cal, the ship hits an iceberg and begins to sink, forever altering the fate of everyone on board.

The final act of the film is largely spent showing how Rose and Jack choose to stay together despite the fact that at least one of them could have left the other and survived. It is a series of tense, desperate scenes that underscores the power of love to overcome adversity, fear, and the threat of death. Director Cameron shows the fates of many other couples on board as well, lest viewers forget that all but seven hundred of the 2,200 people on the real life ship died that fateful night. It is a series of quiet, stolen moments that will make most eyes water as the ship begins its final descent into the depths of the freezing Atlantic Ocean.

The film is a true labor of love for writer/director Cameron, who spent quite a bit of his own money taking daring deep sea dives in small submersible vehicles in order to shoot the footage seen at the very beginning of the film. He also helped bankroll the technology for the cameras that were used to capture the footage, which was a very risky proposition at the time. In addition, he meticulously studied pictures and descriptions of the doomed ship in order to recreate everything with as much precision as possible. His attention to detail is evident in the film, as everything from the china in the dining room to the playing cards is historically accurate. These tiny details help to create the world that the characters lived in, which makes the story feel more authentic.

Cameron got a lot of flack when he accepted the Oscar for Best Director for the film, because he declared "I'm the king of the world!" during his speech. However, several years later, "Titanic" still stands the test of time and is still just as affecting and emotional today as it was the day it was released. Can anyone really argue that the director, who has gone on to do more movie groundbreaking with "Avatar" since then, was indeed the king of the world, even if just for that one night? Upon viewing "Titanic" again, it's hard to argue with his Oscar night declaration. He put together a moving, relevant film that took filmmaking where it hadn't gone before up to that point. If movie fans have to put up with declarations of global royalty to get these types of forward-thinking films made in the future, then let the man be king.

Rating: 4 out of 5